MS Paint Adventures is a catch-all term for several webcomics by Andrew Hussie which were originally made in Microsoft Paint, but later switched to Adobe Photoshop, and later Flash. The Trope Codifier of the Interactive Comic genre, each is written in the style of an Interactive Fiction game, where each panel is accompanied by a text description, and the link to the next panel represents a player's command entered into a Text Parser. It originated in 2006 as a series of games run on the Gangbunch forums, a small gathering of artists and miscellaneous people from the Penny Arcade forums which later became the MSPA Forums, and were played by a group of Hussie's online friends; it graduated to its own site and effectively became a webcomic in 2007.
Originally, all of the commands (barring "Next" and "==>" command continuations) were originally suggested by the readers back in Jailbreak, but over the years this decreased and major plot events were generally planned out ahead of time, culminating in Homestuck simply closing off its suggestion boxes entirely. However, the readers still have a lot of influence on the story through the community discussion, with Hussie admitting he likes reading theories and employing ones which he likes and which make sense.
It comprises four series:
- Jailbreak is the original adventure, where the player is a prisoner trying to escape from an incredibly illogical jail that is completely devoid of pumpkins. Andrew Hussie began it as a forum game many years ago, and one of the rules was that he had to pick the very first suggested command for each move, no matter how unfunny or preposterous. One of its central gags (namely, that You Can't Get Ye Flask because the game denies that the flask even exists) reappears as a Mythology Gag in Problem Sleuth, where the game repeatedly insists that Problem Sleuth's gun is actually a harmless key, and vice versa. It was abandoned until September 2011, where it was capped off with an ending.
- Bard Quest is an experimental comic where each panel has multiple branching paths, much like a Gamebook. It is focused on a nameless bard who is tasked with slaying a dragon, though he spends most of his time messing around before actually heading out on his quest. While the story wasn't very long, it did expand on the idea of an overarching narrative aided by suggestion, as well as the railroading aspects of certain choices. It has been abandoned completely.
- Problem Sleuth concerns the antics of three especially hard-boiled detectives (Problem Sleuth, Ace Dick, and Pickle Inspector) in their attempts to foil the dastardly plots of Mobster Kingpin and to escape from their offices. It parodies various point-and-click adventure and JRPG mechanics and tropes (such as Stat Meters and Turns Red) and features increasingly complex animated panels depicting Super Move Portrait Attacks, Summon Magic and Wave Motion Guns galore. This is the one that made MSPA into a mainstream webcomic due to a sudden increase in popularity.
- Homestuck is the most recent series. It begins with 13-year old John Egbert, who's trying to get around to playing a hot new video game called "Sburb" while contending with a poorly-designed inventory system, and his father, but snowballs very quickly into an epic of children trying to survive After the End in a world predestined to work against them. All dialogue is conveyed through chatlogs. While still happily displaying the energetic imagination and lightheartedness of Problem Sleuth, it has increased focus on deep characterization and dialogue, dramatic moods and a wildly twisting plot. The entire story tends to rely on Stable Time Loops. It was initially done entirely in Flash before Hussie decided to switch back to Photoshop because Flash is a pain to write comics in, though Flash is still occasionally employed for animated sequences and brief exploration games. Not counting the several hours of Flash, it's about four times as long as Problem Sleuth.
- The Homestuck Epilogues serves as a follow up to Homestuck, this time taking the format of an online novel.
- Homestuck^2: Beyond Canon is the official sequel of the series, continuing on after the events of The Homestuck Epilogues. This features contributions made not just by Hussie and the writers of the Epilogues, but other fan-creators, as well. As decreed by Hussie himself, the sequel is primarily more a continuation of the Epilogues than the main series, but it is the reader's decision to consider it all canonical or not.
MSPA has outstripped the much longer running Kevin & Kell as the longest webcomic in existence in terms of page count, which numbers over 6000. However, the mixed media and the fact that several distinct stories are told leaves this fact somewhat open for debate.
Has a sister site, MS Paint Fan Adventures, where most of the notable fan adventures are hosted.
The site was later rebranded to Homestuck.com after Viz Media bought the rights to the comic in 2018, though the other adventures are still hosted there (if not mostly relegated to the "read" section). Content related to the MSPA universe during and post-Homestuck would later be branded under What Pumpkin Studios, with a subsidiary titled What Pumpkin Games focusing on playable entries.
> Provide examples of recurring plot elements.
- Abandoned Info Page:
- The old New Reader page notes itself to be out of date. The claim that Problem Sleuth is 'by far the longest adventure' is crossed out and followed by "(Homestuck is now much longer)", and the section about Homestuck has a link to a more up-to-date primer at the top of the old description. As of the Homestuck.com update, the page has been deleted entirely.
- The secret page also counts, as it lists Andrew's Formspring account, which is now out of service. Its equivalent on Homestuck.com, the More page, links to the defunct old domain for Paradox Space.
- Aborted Arc: Both Jailbreak and Bard Quest end abruptly and are now abandoned.
- Jailbreak subverted this by having an ending written for it years after it was originally stopped.
- A single panel exists of a standalone Midnight Crew adventure, with only the title (Blood Spade) known from the URL. The logo was eventually reused for Homestuck's in-universe Midnight Crew comic.
- Acronym and Abbreviation Overload: From Problem Sleuth onward, to the point where the wiki has an acronym cheatsheet.
- Art Evolution: From the first panel of Jailbreak to Homestuck, the art has increased dramatically. However, all of the art in the comics has always been below Andrew's skill level, and in fact he's lost some of his skill simply because he never uses it anymore. Nonetheless, the writing and pacing have increased by magnitudes.
- Artifact Title: The only image on the entire site to be drawn in MS Paint is the very first image in Jailbreak. Andrew Hussie very quickly abandoned it for Photoshop due to MS Paint's inherent limitations. The story also hasn't been under fan control ever since Homestuck became a breakout hit in Summer '10. See also Never Trust a Title.
- Cerebus Syndrome: Very noticable over the course of the comic. Jailbreak was driven completely by user suggestions without regard for quality, and as a result is completely nonsensical and gag-driven. Bard Quest and Problem Sleuth were still largely user-driven, but managed to incorporate characters and a plot (albeit a comedic, cartoon-y one). Homestuck has a pre-planned story arc and serious themes mixed in with its humor.
- Character Blog: In Homestuck, Dave Strider briefly kept a Blogspot page. He (and the real-life page) stopped updating when the plot interfered.
- Chekhov's Gun: Any object, character, feature, gesture can return in a plot significant way.
- Continuity Porn: Liberal use of Chekhov's Armory and numerous Running Gags and Call Backs to minor details. Homestuck also adds Recurring Riffs and repeated art elements.
- Darker and Edgier: While still being pretty comedic, Homestuck is much darker than the other three "canon" adventures, partially due to the fact that it actually has a story and plotline (Jailbreak was just Rule of Funny without any over-arching plan, and while Problem Sleuth and Bard Quest do have plots, they're completely goofy and aren't treated seriously).
- Diegetic Interface: Before the site's 2010 redesign, menu elements were represented by items on the top of the page. The adventure map, for example, was represented by a literal map, while the posting log was represented by a sheet of paper. Elements of this were retained for the adventure maps made for Problem Sleuth and Homestuck, which respectively marked chapters like locations on a map and had a chapter select resembling a menu in Sburb.
- Eldritch Abomination:
- The "loathsome beasts" of Problem Sleuth are grotesque creatures that appear when the energy powering portal windows is cut off. A high-ranking enemy, Fluthulu, is even said to reside in a "black realm" when not awakened.
- Homestuck's Noble Circle of Horrorterrors are lovecraftian elder gods at the edge of time-space that are responsible for creating aspects of the universe.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin:
- Jailbreak, as one would expect, is about a prisoner attempting a Great Escape. Becomes an Artifact Title in the second half, as he leaves jail early in another timeline's version of events.
- Bard Quest: while it's not quite a grand one, the Bard begins and sticks to an appointed quest the entire run.
- Hollywood Board Games: Did anyone seriously expect a Player Inventory system called Pictionary to be a reasonable way to fetch items? This is one of Jade's Sylladices and is a Symbol Drawing Interface. To catalog an object, it requires her to tag it with a drabble. Likewise, to recover an item, Jade has to draw the drabble associated with it. As expected, this is a very unreliable way of retrieving stuff, leading to the same problems players encounter when playing Pictionary (the board game). She has Sylladices based on Jenga and Memory too.
- Indecisive Medium: At its core, this is a webcomic series that pretends it's a collection of adventure games. Each installment after Jailbreak, however, adds a new element to the list:
- Bard Quest adds minor tabletop roleplay elements.
- Problem Sleuth exaggerates it and switches between webcomic, adventure game, Eastern RPG, and party game (if Death's segments count).
- Homestuck incorporates all previous elements plus web animation, music, and actual playable game interludes. The Epillogues take it further and incorporate Web Serial Novel and faux fanfiction into the fold.
- Interactive Comic: The Trope Codifier, using audience inputs to drive character actions for each new panel, even if the character doesn't react completely as expected.
- Interactive Fiction: Technically it's fake, but it has all the trappings.
- Interface Screw: "What pumpkin?"
- Problem Sleuth has this as a major element in the form of each character's weapons, which are also mundane items like a ring of keys or a lipstick tube. Most of the time, referring to an item as its counterpart seems to get around this (e.g. using the keys on the door shoots it with a gun), except when working normally would be more frustrating and funny. It's explicitly described in-universe on GameFAQs as a bug, though considering how some later puzzles and battles are resolved, it may have become an Ascended Glitch in "development".
- Homestuck does the same thing with the Midnight Crew's decks of cards / storage items, along with troll Kanaya Maryam's lipstick / chainsaw.
- Interdimensional Travel Device: Problem Sleuth and Homestuck feature powered windows that characters can use to travel around. In the former, these are fake windows powered by electricity that can somehow connect to the Realm of Imagination, while in the latter, Fenestrated Planes can take the user to any location.
- Mythology Gag: By nature of the comic, any Running Gag throughout MSPA doubles as a Mythology Gag. None of the four comics are in-continuity with one another, but that doesn't stop pumpkins from disappearing throughout each and every one of them.
- Never Trust a Title:
- The comic used to look like it was made in MS Paint (see the first page of Problem Sleuth), but by a couple hundred pages later the style has evolved and it's quite a bit more complicated, to the point where being able to draw such things on MS Paint would be pretty amazing. Then, around a year later, we're at the point where we have interactive flash pages, elaborate animations, and almost every page in full color. The truth is: the comic was made in Adobe Photoshop from day two. The author does say right in the FAQ that only the very first page of Jailbreak was made in MS Paint. Everything else has been made in Photoshop and/or, starting from Problem Sleuth, with Flash.
- Not only that, but the titles Problem Sleuth and Homestuck only reflect the initial circumstances of each adventure, and don't give a very good glimpse into what the actual story will be like. In Problem Sleuth, no cases are solved, clues found, or culprits apprehended instead, the plot evolves into sort of a pastiche of Eastern RPGs, culminating in a final battle where the entire universe is at stake. On the other Hand, Problem Sleuth was the protagonist, so the title at least made some sense.
- Homestuck was nearly an aversion. Andrew had at one point considered naming the series Sburb, which is what the series is about, but decided it wasn't nearly as distinctive. The name "Homestuck" is basically a nonsense word that only describes the initial conditions of the protagonists, as mentioned above, as a Shout-Out to old-school Adventure games. It also is sorta-synonymous with EarthBound (1994), which had an enormous influence on Homestuck.
- Obfuscating Stupidity:
- Andrew is a very intelligent author. He spends most of his time talking to the fanbase trolling them.
- He also wrote this, and writes recaps from memory.
- One-Man Army: In Problem Sleuth, Andrew did all the work himself and posted around 5-6 pages per day for a year. In Homestuck, he does the majority of a workload for an entire animation team and manages to keep the 5-6 pages average per day. While there is now a dedicated art team which assists him in the Flash animations, there are still the hilarious moments in which he says he'll be slowing down for a while... and posts 80 pages in the span of a week.
- Orphaned Series: Jailbreak (until September 2011) and Bard Quest. Bard Quest much more so than Jailbreak; most fans have never even read BQ, but Jailbreak gets a fair number of call backs.
- Recurring Element: Over the years, some elements have stuck out as more than gags:
- The inclusion (and narrative denial) of pumpkins, which when acknowledged are actually fairly useful to the characters.note
- The "game" resetting at some point, and the occasional changes made to the story because of it.note
- The inclusion of Jailbreak's Suicide Stump.note
- An innocuous item or event being recognised as something vulgar.note
- Severed heads.note
- Recursive Canon:
- Starting with Problem Sleuth, the recurring MSPA Reader character is able to read the comics as their events are happening.
- The one-page Midnight Crew comic apparently exists in full in the Homestuck universe, with the pre-Scratch kids being able to read it, along with the "real" Midnight Crew on Alternia (who the in-universe comic is a reflection of) being able to read a reflection/parody of Homestuck.
- Retool: The site was eventually folded into Viz's Homestuck.com page, putting Homestuck at the forefront while trying to work around flash capability in the new layout.
- Running Gag: Several, but most notably the "What pumpkin?" and "Quickly retrieve arms" gags. The former is a version of You Can't Get Ye Flask where any time a command comes in to interact with a pumpkin, it disappears from view and the narration acts like it never existed. The latter is a reference to the art style, which neglects to portray the character's arms unless they expressly need it.
- Schrödinger's Gun: Most of the early adventures and Problem Sleuth had their most important plot points made from one-off suggestions.
- Shared Universe: Or rather, a shared multiverse.
- Stylistic Self-Parody: The characters are usually drawn sans arms, leading to a running gag throughout the series consisting of the command "Quickly retrieve arms from _____", with the character responding by gesturing with their (now drawn) arms and the message "You already have arms, stupid!" (or some other insult). This is subverted early on in Homestuck. And again thereafter.
- "Quickly retrieve arms from cinder blocks." "Nah."
- THEY'RE RIGHT THERE. IN PLAIN SIGHT. LOOK, THEY ARE FLASHING RED.
- At one point, a character literally has to retrieve an arm (from an inadvertently dismembered corpse.)
- After much fiddling with arms/armory puns, one instance actually bothered to play the original intention of the command (equipping a gun) straight.
- Stylistic Suck: The unrefined, aliased art style allows for swifter drawing, allowing several panels to be published per day. That doesn't stop Andrew Hussie from doing incredibly refined and detailed drawings, however.
- Theme Table:
- Problem Sleuth and Homestuck each use this. In Homestuck, each of the main characters has a guardian, something weird that guardian collects, a world etc.. In Problem Sleuth, each of the detectives and the Mobster Kingpin has something trapping them in a room, a kingdom in the fantasy world etc..
- Some more detail on things the kids in Homestuck each have one of is here.
- Web Animation: One of Homestuck's primary draws are the Flash (denoted by [S]) updates.
- You Can't Get Ye Flask:
- The pumpkin. Of course, when you attempt to get ye flask of whiskey, it works fine. Also, when you attempt to get ye key, you get a gun... and ye key disappeareth.
- It's sort of applied logic: in Problem Sleuth, one of the commands would be to grab something (gun, knife,) and it would immediately turn into something else. Any time you bring it up, it will turn back.
- It was so common that it even got an official name "Innocuous Double" and a page on the wiki detailing all the doubles.
- You can also get ye rope, despite it actually being a cable.
> Start MS Paint Adventure.
> Choose your path to cod-given glory.
> Knock a stiff one back and get to sleuthing.
> Begin reading excessively verbose document.
> Examine character tropes by series.
> Display vast intellect of pointless subject matter.
> Craft extensive theories on previous adventures.
> Consume subjective opinions with a grain of salt.